Authors: Kelli Wilkins
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Viking, #Paranormal, #Historical Romance
She nodded. Rothgar’s concerns made sense. “Can you learn if a Norse ship landed here?”
. I asked Brennan. He refused to answer … even before you tried to kill him.”
“Bah, Brennan.” She dismissed him with a wave of her hand. “Just as well. Every word that comes from his face is nothing but a lie. There are others on the isle who may know.”
She looked up as the door opened and Sig entered the gathering hall. He spoke to Rothgar for a moment. Rothgar nodded, then replied. Sig cast her a sideways glance as he sat in the corner near the fireplace.
Rothgar sighed. “These others, will they aid me in my quest?”
She broke a chunk of bread off a nearby loaf and smeared some butter on it as an idea came to her. If she acted clever enough, her plan might work. She chewed the bread and washed it down with a sip of beer. “Nay, they shall not aid you, but one might speak freely with me.”
“Who? Brennan hates you down to your soul. And why? What did you ever do to him?”
She arched an eyebrow. “Nothing. He has hated me my entire life. He hated me mother, as well.” She pushed the memory of her dear dead mother aside. It wouldn’t do to dwell on that now. She needed to keep a clear head.
“Remember upstairs when you asked if I fancied anyone on the isle?” She nibbled on another chunk of bread.
, you said—”
“It weren’t the truth.” She looked down, ashamed to admit that she had lied to Rothgar so easily. “I fibbed to you. There is someone.”
“You’ve had a lover?”
She heard the unmistakable jealousy in Rothgar’s voice and smiled. “Nay. I’ve never had a lover. But we were close friends.”
“I see.” Rothgar cleared his throat. “Did he propose to you?”
“What?” Why would he be interested in her marriage prospects? “Nay. And he is not the man I shall marry one day.”
Rothgar scowled. “How do you know who your husband will be?”
“It came to me in a vision.”
“A vision?” He chuckled. “Again with the visions … And who is this man?”
She chewed her bread slowly. Even if Rothgar did not believe her, she
have visions. She could also touch objects and learn about their owners. If animals could catch a scent and track their prey with their noses, was it so hard to believe that she could do the same thing with her mind?
She grinned and continued teasing Rothgar with her elusive answers. “Someone on the isle.”
He leaned closer to her. “You are serious.”
She took a sip of beer and swallowed before answering. “Aye. Very.”
“Dammit, woman, tell me who this man is. How are you to return with me if you are to marry a villager?”
“I never said it was a villager.” She batted her eyelashes and looked at him coyly. “There are a fair number of Norsemen on the isle.”
Rothgar banged a fist on the table. “A Nordmann? I swear an oath to Odin that if any man touches you or dares to—”
“Settle down. You are terribly jealous.”
“I am not. I’m—” He pounded the table again. “What in the name of Thor does this friend have to do with finding Orvind? Tell me his name, and I will question him. I’ll be certain to get the answers I seek.”
She shook her head. Her little game had gone on too far. Now it was time to discuss important matters. “Nay. It must be me. He will not speak to you. Bring him here, and I shall ask him questions of my own—in my own way.”
Rothgar shot her a doubtful look. “And he will tell you what you wish to know?”
“He may. ’Tis all I can do to try.” She paused and looked deep into Rothgar’s eyes. “But you must allow me to speak to him freely and not interfere, no matter what you see or hear. Do I have your word?”
Rothgar ran his hands through his hair and frowned. “
. Who is he? How will I be certain I bring you the right man? How will you make him speak? If he touches you, I will—”
“His name is Darach. His hair is darker than yours, and he is a wee bit older than I. Ask for him in the nets, but use caution. You must not let him know you speak our tongue.”
“Why? And how would he know of Orvind’s ship?”
She rolled her eyes. Perhaps she shouldn’t have troubled Rothgar by teasing him and making him jealous. Now he asked too many questions. “Darach is the best fisherman on the isle and knows the coastline better than anyone. If any Norse ship came near our shore, he shall know of it. But after what Karnik’s men have done here, he shan’t be ready with his words if he believes you are listening.”
Rothgar seemed satisfied with her answer and nodded. “
, I will bring him to you.” He stood, spoke to Sig, then looked at her. “But first, you must tell me the name of the man you will marry.”
“Nay. You do not believe in visions.”
“Tease me no longer, witch. I wish to sate my curiosity.”
Odaria smiled. If Rothgar truly wanted to know, she’d tell him. Odds were that he wouldn’t believe her anyway. “He stands before me.”
Rothgar’s mouth dropped open. “Me?”
She nodded. “Aye. Why? You do not like the idea? Or do you already have a wife waiting at home?”
, and I have no need to stand here and be made a fool.” He strode to the door and yanked it open. “I will bring Darach to you.” Rothgar looked at her and shook his head. “A witch and her visions. By the mercy of the gods, I have never heard of such foolishness.” He stepped through the doorway.
Rothgar shoved Darach ahead of him on the dirt pathway as they approached the gathering hall. What could Odaria possibly find attractive about this man? He was thin, had a big nose, and was merely a year or two older than she was.
Darach had come along with him easily, as one would expect from a sheep. He hadn’t struggled or tried to fight for his freedom as a real man would. Instead, he crossed himself and whispered prayers the entire time. Coward.
He opened the door and pushed Darach into the gathering hall. What he saw inside the room surprised him. In his short absence, Odaria had cleaned up the mess and set the table for a meal. Two large plates were heaped with steaming meat and potatoes. A ceramic pitcher of beer sat in the center of the table next to two lit candles. His pulse flared at the sight of the intimate setting. Odaria had done this for Darach?
Sig stood up and nodded. Before leaving to fetch Darach, Rothgar had instructed Sig to sit with Odaria and watch over her. At his signal, Sig returned to his seat near the fire and resumed patching a hole in his tunic.
He untied Darach’s hands and moved back as Odaria threw herself into Darach’s arms. What was this, a trick?
“Oh, Darach, I’m so glad you are here,” Odaria said as she clung to him.
He scowled as he saw Darach hesitate before hugging Odaria in return. Was he not glad to see her? He slammed the door and sat down in a chair near the table. Now he would watch and listen. He’d kept his word to Odaria and hadn’t let Darach know that he spoke the Pict tongue. Although he trusted her, he did not know what type of trickery she was dealing out now.
“Are you injured? I was so frightened when—”
“I’m fine.” Darach released her. “What happened to you?”
“I fled the beach and hid here. Then …”
Rothgar bristled as she nodded at him.
found me. They have been making me clean and cook and—”
“Soulless heathen monsters. May God strike them all dead and burn their souls.”
“I was worried about you. I bargained with one of them to release you.” Odaria clasped Darach’s hand and led him to the table. “Sit and eat. I found this food prepared down below. It was readied for a feast of some sort.”
He rolled his eyes as Darach sat at the table and started wolfing down the food. This was torture. Watching Odaria fawn over this man-boy was bad enough, but to hear her use that sweet tone made his stomach ache.
Odaria sat across from Darach. “I heard there was trouble, that these invaders killed someone.”
“Aye,” Darach answered between bites. “Skinned him alive and tore out his guts, the filthy pagans. God shall show them no mercy in hell.”
Rothgar frowned. That was not how the blood eagle was done. But if Darach touched one raven-colored hair on Odaria’s head, he would learn firsthand how it was made.
Odaria clasped Darach’s hand as he finished eating. “I want you to know that I bear you no ill will for what happened on the hillside. Ye know in your heart I never could have done what Brennan—”
“I know what Brennan thinks and believes. You are not a worry of his, for now. But why did you conjure these raiders here?”
Rothgar arched an eyebrow. Darach truly thought that Odaria had the power to summon them here? Interesting. Did everyone in the village believe her claims that she was a witch?
“I was afraid. You stood at the fire. You saw how close I came to being roasted. I grew upset and …” She squeezed Darach’s hand. “I do not wish to think of it now. I merely wished to know you were safe.”
Odaria slid her plate toward Darach. “If you are starved, you may have my portion. I’ve eaten today.”
Rothgar shook his head. How quickly Odaria could turn on the charms and start sweet-talking this pathetic fool. Did she pretend like this with every man she met?
He recalled what she had told him earlier. Did she honestly have visions of them being husband and wife? Why would she invent such a tale? To earn his trust and get him to do her bidding? And for how much longer would he be forced to listen to this sweetness? Why hadn’t Odaria asked Darach about the blasted ship already?
Darach took a piece of fish off Odaria’s plate and stuffed it into his mouth.
Odaria glance at Rothgar, then poured Darach a cup of beer. “Remember the strolls we used to take along the shore? I enjoyed walking under the moon and holding hands with ya …”
“Aye,” Darach grunted and crammed a slice of bread into his mouth.
“Those peaceful times comforted me. When Brennan had me held prisoner beneath the church, I thought of you and of the walks we took together.”
Rothgar clenched his jaw. Odaria had taken romantic moonlit walks with this useless scrap of a man? Darach wasn’t worthy enough to polish his sword. Why was Odaria taking so damn long to get to the point? Was she enjoying this little reunion with her special friend?
“Why are the Norsemen still here, Darach? I tried to send them back, but they won’t go. We have no gold or treasures for them to steal. They have never raided here before.”
Darach swallowed his food before answering. “Nay, but they tried.”
“They did? When? I recall nothing of it.”
“A fortnight ago.” Darach sipped his beer. “After you were taken to the church. During a violent storm, one of their pagan warships dashed against the rocks on the north shore of the isle. Are you certain you weren’t trying to conjure them that night to rescue you?”
Rothgar bit the inside of his mouth to keep from shouting out his own questions. Orvind’s ship
here! With Thor’s blessing, he might still have a chance of finding him.
“Nay, I swear, I had nothing to do with that.” Odaria’s eyes widened. “Did you see the raiders? Where are they now? How many of them were there?”
Darach nodded. “Aye, I found them when I went fishing the morning after the storm. The ship must have split apart in the night. There were dead men floating in the water and scattered all along the shore. A few lived, but they were deeply injured.” He chuckled. “God protected us from them, just as Brennan promised.”
Odaria licked her lips. “What happened then? What did the villagers do?”
“Nothing. They did not learn of the attempted invasion. I went to Brennan for counsel. He told me to keep quiet about it so as not to cause panic amongst our good people. We threw the larger pieces of wreckage and most of the bodies back into the sea.” He shook his head. “Soulless sea devils. They come out from the depths of hell to do us harm. May the sea swallow them all.”
Rothgar gripped the arms of the chair so hard his knuckles turned white. It was all he could do to resist leaping across the room and crushing Darach’s throat with one hand. He clutched his necklace and closed his eyes. Could Orvind still be alive? If so, perhaps Brennan would allow him to buy him back. It was not uncommon for them to pay a large sum for a fellow Nordmann’s safe return.
“What of the ones who lived?” Odaria asked.
“They were injured and easily captured. Brennan took them away somewhere.”
“Where? For what purpose? Are they still alive? He kept me prisoner under the church for a fortnight. Would he conceal them there as well? Mayhap to cleanse them of their pagan ways?”
Good girl, Odaria.
Although she asked the right questions to keep Darach talking, the tone she used made her sound dim-witted and confused. It was a perfect ploy.
Darach finished his beer and held the cup out for Odaria to refill. “I do not know. Brennan said God had shown us his mercy and spared us. To ensure we remained in God’s good graces and as a show of gratitude, we would in return …”
Odaria nodded at him as she filled his cup. “In return, do what? Go on.”